Like Clark, I’m trying to get my head around what was a Royal September. Winning 18 of 26 games is certainly impressive, but it feels diminished in my mind thanks to three wins against a Triple-A team (Oakland), four wins against a team that didn’t care anymore (Seattle) and three wins against a team that quit in August (Detroit).
The Royals scored 691 runs and allowed 781 in 2008, which translates to a Pythagorean record of 72-90. So by the math, the Royals outperformed by winning 75 games.
I know some are buoyed by 75 wins and a fourth place finish, but I don’t think enough progress was made to warrant celebration. Maybe I’m still sour from a depressing August, but it feels to me like the schedule makers smiled on the Royals this month.
Remember April of 2003 when the Royals won 17 of their first 21 games? Of course you do. It turned out the Royals weren’t that good. Obviously, an .810 winning percentage isn’t sustainable, but from the end of April to the end of the year, the Royals went 66-75, a .468 winning percentage. That year, the Royals sprinted out of the gate to quickly sputter and fall back to Earth. We were all so excited by the start, we overlooked the warts. The problem was, the warts just don’t go away. In the end, the shortcomings of the roster caught up with the team and they barely finished above .500.
And that’s what this September feels like to me.
It was a mirage… An oasis… A blip of good fortune. The Royals crushed the weak teams and played .500 ball (they were 8-8) against the contenders. It’s not enough to convince me the Royals truly improved from the previous season.
The problem was, in 2003, Allard Baird was fooled into thinking the Royals were close when in reality, they weren’t. His subsequent signings, designed to take the team to another level, were disasters.
The good news is, this is where the parallels between the two situations no longer exist. The Royals of 2008 aren’t going to fool themselves into thinking they are closer to the holy grail than they really are. GMDM and his crew are no doubt pleased by progress in the win column, even if it took a fortuitous September, but they realize there is still much work to be done. Cleveland played below expectations this summer and will be better next year. The Twins seem to reload every year while keeping a nucleus of young talent together. The White Sox bash the hell out of the ball and have some good young arms. The Tigers are bloated, their pitching staff is in shambles and their window of opportunity has probably closed, but they still have enough talent to hover around .500 if they decide to care next season. If the Royals are going to compete, they’ll need to add at least one (and preferably two) big bats and another pitcher to solidify the rotation.
That means it should be business as usual in the front office on this, the second day of the off season.
And that’s a reason for optimism.
Back in March, I asked for five predictions:
Order of finish in the AL Central
Royals Player of the Year
Royals Pitcher of the Year
Remember our responses?
Personally, I had 74 wins. Close but no cigar. The average prediction was for 79 wins, which was a tad optimistic. If the Royals hadn’t gone in the tank in August or gone on a Buddy-like losing streak in May, it would have been close.
Order of Finish
Let’s face it. Most of us loathe the White Sox. I’m fine with that. And looking back, I still think this division was difficult to call. But everyone had either the Indians or Tigers winning this thing. That we’re two days after the close of the regular season and the division still isn’t settled is kind of amazing. That it’s down to the Twins and the White Sox is even more startling.
Think about it… The Twins trade their number one starter for a bunch of prospects only one of whom saw a bulk of time in the majors - Carlos Gomez who hit .259/.297/.362 and had an OPS+ of 77. Then they sent another pitcher (Matt Garza) to Tampa for Delmon Young who hit .292/.338/.407 with an OPS+ of 101. And they’re in freaking first place at the end of the regular season! They’ve hit fewer home runs than the Royals (true!) yet they are the third highest scoring offense in the AL.
You are not supposed to trade two quality starting pitchers for a pair of light-hitting outfielders and still win your division.
Sometimes this game confuses me.
Meanwhile, the Sox slugged their way to the top of the division, leading the AL in home runs and finishing second in slugging percentage. They made an outstanding trade last winter, picking up Carlos Quentin who hit .288/.394/.571 with an OPS+ of 148. He’s your AL MVP until he broke his wrist. He more than made up for the drop in production from the other player the Sox acquired, Nick Swisher who hit .219/.334/.410 with an OPS+ of 93.
Player of the Year
The majority went with Billy Butler while Alex Gordon finished second and was followed by Jose Guillen.
This hasn’t been officially announced yet as votes are still being tabulated from the media that covers the team. (They should probably expand the pool and include internet-based writers. Ahem.) But what’s nice is, for the first time in years, there isn’t a clear cut winner. And the eventual winner won’t suck.
The way I see it it’s a two man race between David DeJesus and Mike Aviles.
We all know about the Aviles story, so there’s no need to rehash it here. But his final line of .325/.354/.480 was simply outstanding. He led the team in OPS+ at 116 and scored 68 runs, which was four off Gordon’s 72 for team lead.
DeJesus had a brilliant year as well. He hit .307/.366/.452 with an OPS+ of 114. He led the league in RBI percentage at 21%. I’ll say it again… He led the freaking league in RBI percentage. If DeJesus came to bat with runners on base in a key situation, he was money.
Not to take anything away from Aviles and his outstanding season, if I had a vote, I’d give it to DeJesus. He had about 100 more at bats than Aviles and did I mention he led the league in RBI Percentage?
Pitcher of the Year
This one was a split decision between Zack Greinke and Gil Meche with Joakim Soria picking up enough votes to edge Brian Bannister (what?) for third.
Soria was outstanding, pitching in the ninth inning of a game where his team led by three runs or less and held on to win 42 times, he also had an ERA of 1.60 and struck out 66 batters in 67.2 innings.
Meche overcame a slow start to push his ERA below 4 in his final start of the year. He finished at 3.98 with a career high strikeout rate of 7.8 K/9.
Greinke was solid all year long and ended with a career best 3.47 ERA and strikeout rate of 8.1 K/9.
I love all three of these guys and would like nothing more than for this to be the front three of the rotation next year. (That’s a topic for another day.) However, Greinke in my mind was head and shoulders above the other two.